Ten trips to take before it's too late
In honour of Earth Day earlier this week, we're visiting some of our favorited destinations that may not be around much longer.
Whether due to a waning species (Rwanda's critically endangered mountain gorillas; the Himalayas' rare snow leopards) or a rapidly declining ecosystem, these 10 beautiful places may soon dramatically change forever. Others may disappear altogether.
The Great Barrier Reef, Australia
Australia's northeast coast is home to the world's largest reef complex and the only one that can be seen from space. At about 350,000 square kilometres — that's roughly half the size of France — the Great Barrier Reef nurtures at least 300 species of hard coral and 1500 species of fish.
But rising ocean temperatures, water pollution, cyclones, and ocean acidification all bleach the coral reef, and scientists worry that poor water quality and high emissions won't allow it to recover.
Where to Stay: Hamilton Island's Qualia resort is our favourite way to experience the reef firsthand. Its 12 hectares, which include 60 hillside pavilions and a private beach, sit alongside the Coral Sea among fragrant eucalyptus trees.
See the magnificent reefs surrounding it — including the famous heart-shaped reef — with a helicopter tour, launched from the resort's helipad. (qualia.com.au)
The Amazon Rainforest
The "Save the Rainforest" movement took the world by storm more than a decade ago, but the Amazon — which stretches through nine South American countries and measures roughly 7 million square kilometres — continues to be threatened by deforestation and pollution.
Environmentalists have warned about the loss of biodiversity that such habitat destruction will cause; some predictions even show that the rainforest could completely disappear by the end of the 21st century.
Where to Stay: Instead of staying in one location, explore the Amazon's awe-inspiring river — the world's largest drainage system — and its heavily forested shores aboard Aqua Expedition's intimate 16-suite Aria.
Voyages allow guests to kayak with the river's pink dolphins, fish for piranhas, and hike on shore among native Titi monkeys. New seven-night cruises with the renowned ocean environmentalist and film producer Jean-Michel Cousteau are also available for next year, providing an in-depth look of how we can help protect the Amazon. (aquaexpeditions.com)
The U.S. Navy is expanding and setting up resources to be able to respond to situations and emergencies that may arise with the increasing ice melt that is projected to occur between now and 2030.
This is hotly debated, but among the numerous statistics of melting ice, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports that average Arctic temperatures are rising almost twice as quickly as the global average rate.
Regardless of future predictions, the current state of the Arctic is undeniably in decline: Coastal erosion, ice cap retreat, and permafrost melt are all well documented.
Where to Stay: The luxury French cruise line Ponant is an expert in polar expeditions, and its 132-room ship Le Boréal features an internationally recognised Clean Ship label. A navigational positioning system eliminates the need to drop anchor — protecting the seabed from any contact and potential damage — and an optical and submarine-detection system prevents collisions with orcas and other cetaceans.
Arctic itineraries range from seven nights in Norway to 14 nights in Alaska and Canada, and include exceptional naturalist guides, Zodiac trips to spot polar bears or explore breathtaking fjords, and — depending on specific itinerary — immersive encounters with local communities. (us.ponant.com)
The Dead Sea
The Dead Sea is the world's saltiest body of water, and humans have been floating in its waters since Biblical times for its many believed healing properties. However, it has been reported that in the last 50 years, the depth of the lake has dropped 34 metres, reducing its surface by 30 percent.
Thousands of sinkholes, which continually and unexpectedly appear along its shores, have scientists and conservationists concerned that most of the lake will one day disappear altogether.
Where to Stay: Roughly 90 minutes from the Dead Sea, Beresheet is arguably the best resort in Israel. Its 111 one- and two-story villas — many with private pools — perfectly blend into the remote desert landscape, and activities range from horseback and camel rides to jeep excursions and mountain biking in the nearby Ramon Crater. ( isrotel.com)
A study conducted by more than 30 scientists around the world and released earlier this year shows that 75 percent of primate species have shrinking populations, and 60 percent are threatened with extinction.
Their decline is being attributed to hunting, farming, ranching, logging, mining, and oil drilling. In the forests of Rwanda, the native mountain gorilla population is most famous as the subject of primatologist Dian Fossey's research.
Though Fossey's work became the impetus for a widely successful conservation effort that has over the last century brought a species back from the brink, Rwanda's gorillas remain critically endangered due to habitat loss caused by human development.
Where to Stay: Encounter mountain gorillas — as well as chimpanzees and golden monkeys — while trekking through the forests of Rwanda with Volcanoes Safaris. The outfitter's six-day safaris take place at its Virunga Lodge and highlight gorilla conservation and education, as well as local culture.
The lodge also recently debuted its new Dian Fossey Map Room in honour of the 50th anniversary of the primatologist's Karisoke Research Centre. (volcanoessafaris.com)
As the lowest lying country in the world, the Maldives are in danger of sinking due to climate change. None of the island-nation's approximately 1200 small coral islands rise to more than 1.8 metres above sea level, and its highest natural point sits a mere 2.4 metres above the Indian Ocean on Addu Atoll.
Scientists predict that the idyllic atolls could be completely submerged within the next 30 years. Luckily, local officials are taking vital steps in the right direction, pledging to be completely carbon neutral by 2019.
Where to Stay: Located on a lush 9-hectare island roughly 160 kilometres southwest of the main island of Malé, the St. Regis Maldives Vommuli Resort opened late last year with a focus on wellness. The 77-villa property features an onsite Ayurvedic doctor, a 1860-square-metre spa, and the island-nation's largest hydrotherapy pool. (starwoodhotels.com)
Nearly the size of Texas, Madagascar is the planet's fifth largest island; its unique wildlife — including the endangered Silky Sifaka lemur and rare Ploughshare tortoise — is some of the planet's most exotic.
In fact, 95 percent of its reptiles, 89 percent of its plant life, and 92 percent of its mammals exist nowhere else on Earth. And all of them are unfortunately in danger due to poaching and deforestation.
Where to Stay: Meet Madagascar's many endemic species at the soon-to-open Miavana Island Sanctuary. Set to debut in June, the low-impact private-island resort is located on island-nation's northern tip.
Each of its 14 villas comes with snorkel gear, allowing guests the opportunity to swim among some of the world's largest coral reef systems. (timeandtideafrica.com)
Experts estimate that as few as 4080 snow leopards currently exist in the wild, landing the powerful white-and-grey cat on the endangered species list. And while hunting is the biggest threat to these majestic cats, scientists say that climate change could result in a loss of up to 30 percent of their habitat in the Himalayas alone.
Where to Stay: Increasing snow leopard awareness and conservation efforts is andBeyond's 13-day expedition into the heart of Ladakh. The 13-day expeditions through the Himalayas will take travellers on hikes and four-wheeled treks specially designed to spot the mysterious cat.
Guests stay at the Snow Leopard Lodge in Ulley, and make visits to the local Snow Leopard Conservancy devoted to the species' survival and the preservation of its habitat. (andBeyond.com)
Glacier National Park, Montana
Glaciers are generally a minimum of 10 hectares in size. In 1850, approximately 150 glaciers were present in what is now Glacier National Park, and most were still present when the park was established in 1910. In 2010, the U.S. Geological Survey reported that only 25 of the park's glaciers were larger than 10 hectares.
While the impact of this glacial retreat on the park's ecosystems is still uncertain, scientists say that native plant and animal species could suffer due to a loss of habitat. Glacial retreat — and the resulting reduction of seasonal melting — could also lead to an increase in forest fires.
Where to Stay: Helping visitors appreciate the beauty and importance of the precious ice masses is the Resort at Paws Up, a 15,000-hectare working cattle ranch in western Montana. Choose from 28 luxury homes or 30 luxury tents as a home base for visits to Glacier National Park and other outdoor adventures.
This summer, the resort will also launch a new campsite along the Blackfoot River, which will feature North America's only three-bedroom canvas tents. Each of its 91- to 113-square-metre tents will offer a king-size bed, a bathhouse with heated floors and granite counters, and a private deck overlooking the river. (pawsup.com)
It's no secret that Venice is sinking. Annual floods have been taking over the Italian island for nearly a century; a submerged walk in the Piazza San Marco is even a cherished tourist activity.
Aiming to help keep the city afloat, however, is Mose, a multi-billion-dollar project that — expected to be completed in 2018 — is constructing a series of flood barriers in an effort to protect Venice. The city is expected to sink by another 1.8-metre by the year 2100; hopefully this new initiative will keep total submergence at bay.
Where to Stay: Aman Canal Grande Venice is a 16th-century palazzo located directly on the city's Grand Canal. Brimming with original Italian designs — including gilt cornices, terrazzo floors, carved woodwork, and a centuries-old fresco by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo — the hotel features private gardens that overlook the canal.
It's also a short stroll from the Piazza San Marco, where guests can wade through the ankle-deep waters that regularly rush into the square. (aman.com)